Chorlton vs. Homelessness

We’ve seen an increase in homelessness and street begging in Chorlton. Can we work together as a community to tackle the issues?

We all agree that seeing people begging on our streets is distressing: it’s criminal that a modern society can seem to be leaving so many people behind. A recent study by housing charity, Shelter, found that one in 154 people in Manchester is homeless.

The big solutions to the homelessness crisis may be political, but practical help starts with individuals, and we can all play our part. Experts in the sector, whether activists, charities or support workers, are united in one principle: giving money to street beggars isn’t helpful in the longer term.

“We understand that people are kind here: they want to do something,” says Stephanie Moore from Chorlton charity Reach out to the Community. “But there are many more effective things you can do. Not all street beggars are homeless, just as not all homeless people beg.

“For rough sleepers, average life expectancy is just 47. Living on the streets is dangerous and there are people out there who prey on the vulnerable. When you give money directly, you’re helping someone to scrape by and removing incentives seek help or take steps towards a better life. Many charities – including ours – have found that giving money to people on the street keeps them there for longer. If someone is rough sleeping, life is chaotic: they can suffer with mental health issues or addiction and it can take a while for them to feel able to seek help, but that help is out there: it’s a matter of building trust.”

Stephanie, along with Becky Elliott and a committed team of volunteers at Reach Out, work hard to build that trust, through communication and small, but practical acts of kindness. Their team talks – and listens – to people on the streets, they’ll give hot food, help with benefits applications, organise and take people to medical or housing appointments and much more. It’s all about responding to individual needs, but with a view to the future, as well as the immediate present.

“There’s lots going on behind the scenes,” says Adele Jordan of Cracking Good Food. “Businesses and individuals across Chorlton are donating food and other items, filling up flasks and more. We’re sharing and putting everything to good use. Rob, one of our trainers, is teaching residents at the Longford Centre how to cook affordable healthy meals from scratch, a lifeline for those in poverty and a very employable skill.”

The Centre, which opened earlier this year in Chorlton, gives short-term help to people who find themselves on the verge of homelessness.

“We take our stable homes for granted, but that stability can be fragile,” says Adele. “Young people are especially at risk. Students graduate with huge debts these days, with no guaranteed access to the National Living Wage or housing benefit until they’re 25. Fine if you’ve got family who can support you, but what happens if you haven’t? It could so easily happen to our children.

“If a relationship ends, you lose your job or suffer poor physical or mental health, it can all too easily cost the roof over your head. Shelter estimate that 37% of working families would not make ends meet if one partner lost their job.

“Manchester is bracing itself for the impact of the five-week Universal Credit payment delay, there are unfair evictions – everyone has a story to tell. These aren’t people from the margins: they may well have had homes and careers, but something just went wrong along the way.”

The Longford Centre is a vital early intervention, which gives its residents that bit of stability to help them get back on their feet. “That’s often all people need: once you find yourself sleeping rough, it’s so much harder to find your way back to a settled life for so many reasons,” says Stephanie.

The Centre itself has already witnessed Chorlton’s community spirit: volunteers responded to the call before Christmas to help refurbish and decorate the centre, creating a modern, cosy and welcoming temporary home.

Filmmaker Clara Casian has been working with Reach Out, Cracking Good Food and Community Reporter training to make a film that allows homeless and formerly homeless people to tell their stories, offering bleak insights into life on the streets. There are moving stories of lives lost, then recovered, with a little help from friends.

LET’S GIVE REAL HELP

Not giving money to street beggars doesn’t mean that you lack compassion: the opposite is true if you find a better way to help. Here are a few suggestions:

BUY – If someone is begging outside a shop, ask (never assume) if he or she would like you to pick them up some food, a hot drink or whatever else they may need from inside. Toiletries are just as important as food and warm clothing.

DONATE – Non-perishable food, toiletries and warm clothes are always welcome. Any good-condition household goods, books, CDs, DVDs , toys etc can be sold in the Reach Out shop at 488 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton. Jeanette Park, Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Longford Centre is looking for donations of sealed food, gardening equipment, art materials, toiletries, sports equipment and board games.

GIVE – Money you donate to Reach Out, or any homeless charity, is spent not only on physical needs, but also on practical help; whether that’s access to a computer to fill in benefits forms (now online only) travel costs or training. The Reach Out team is currently saving up for a van to help them move donations and larger items to where they’re most needed. Can you help?

GROW – Chorlton’s a nation of gardeners! If you have surplus crops this season, donate your fruit and veg to Reach Out and they, along with Cracking Good Food, will make sure nothing goes to waste.

HELP – “We’re looking for volunteers to help run sessions and activities at the Longford Centre,” says Jeanette. “Gardening, art, sports, cooking, job advice, photography, education, yoga classes and more. We also need help supporting residents to appointments and collecting donations. If you’d like to give time or share knowledge, contact Jeanette on 0161 234 1170.

You can volunteer for Reach out to the Community too: just call into the shop.

CAMPAIGN – speak out – and use your vote!